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There are many different emerging technologies contributing to the rise of smart cities, and many municipal governments have hired chief digital, information, or technology officers to leverage those advanced urban systems.
However, for many cities, there’s been a lack of consensus about best practices. A new report by Bloomberg Associates, a non-profit city consultancy founded by ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is attempting to provide some agreed-upon strategies.
Digital City Tools: Technologies Cities Use to Interact with Citizens highlights 22 metropolitan areas that have successfully implemented various urban tech platforms using eight digital technologies: artificial intelligence, email marketing, online chat, text SMS, social media platforms, social media management, web-based content management, and non-emergency reporting channels.
While the report explores a diverse array of cities, ranging from Nashville and Detroit to London and Seoul, one common thread is how cities are connecting with locals and visitors. The goal, according to Todd Asher with Bloomberg Associates’ media and technology team, is to provide a roadmap for other government tech leaders to develop similar initiatives.
“When we speak to CTOs, CIOs, and CDOs in cities, they have an idea of a peer set in their mind for other cities,” said Asher. “They want to know what those cities are doing, and if they’re doing the right things already. Mostly, they want to know who is doing something that they can emulate, which has been proven and can be quickly implemented, in order to offer better delivery of services for their cities.”
In effect, Bloomberg Associates is facilitating peer-to-peer networking to help city leaders build consensus and develop new public-private partnerships around actionable insights.
“I think that the idea of having a group of city mentors, if you will, is important,” said Asher. “The one thing that we see when knowledge sharing is done one-to-one is it can be a real drain on the resources of cities at the front of the pack, because every city out there will go to them asking for how they did the things that they did.”
The following are some compelling case studies around the world where municipal governments have developed successful mobile and Internet of Things platforms.
Digital City Tools Case Studies
Boston: In 2016, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh appointed his city’s first Chief Digital Officer and a digital team to recreate the city’s boston.gov website and reimagine the city’s branding. The three primary mandates were: create a user-driven experience, establish easily recognizable graphics, and publish all content in easy to understand language.
The portal provides citizens with a selection of content such as: Common Resources, various Guides ranging from “Uncovering Boston History” to “Affordable Housing,” plus a wide range of news updates, service request information, and upcoming special events. Emails are also provided to contact every city council member.
According to the Bloomberg Associates report: “Since January 2017, the average post reach went from the hundreds to now regularly reaching 10,000 — with frequent spikes surpassing 100,000.”
Kansas City, Missouri: In November 2017, Avis Budget Group announced its first ever Mobility Lab to test connectivity between their cars, customers, and Kansas City’s smart grid. The local fleet of 5,000 cars and 20 rental locations have enhanced vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to provide data that helps streamline urban mobility. Avis chose Kansas City because of the city’s extensive investments in urban tech and its mission to become “the world’s most connected smart city.”
“Our Mobility Lab in the greater Kansas City area extends our next-generation mobility initiatives,” said Larry De Shon, president and CEO of Avis Budget Group. “The steps we’re taking with connected car and smart technologies will increase customer satisfaction, while also preparing us to meet the evolving needs of consumers, entrepreneurs, corporations, and governments.”
And according to the report, Kansas City and Avis “are interested in testing whether connected vehicles could enhance the visitor’s experience to Kansas City and the overall journey as a connected traveler.” Part of the way they’re accomplishing that is by integrating content from the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Bureau into the Avis app.
Tel Aviv: Few other cities are as intentional about repositioning their entire destination brand around their startup community and the future of urban connectivity as Tel Aviv. One example is the DigiTel Residents Club. The personalized web and mobile platform provides locals with customized, location-specific services delivered via email or text messages. Services include discounts at local businesses, news about special events, and opportunities to provide feedback on municipal initiatives.
According to the report: “Today, approximately 180,000 Tel Aviv residents are registered with DigiTel — 65 percent of the city’s adult population. Registration numbers continue to climb, with approximately 3,000 new members joining every month.”
Opportunities For Tourism
One of the takeaways in Digital City Tools for tourism leaders is how sites like boston.gov are designed with a reader-centric, mobile-first strategy, combining both evergreen and topical content to help people find the information they’re seeking. City government sites have typically been designed with static, hierarchal structures, much like most tourism websites.
The report also provides data and showcases best practices in AI, social media, chat, text, and website content delivery, which tourism organizations can embrace. For example, five of the 22 cities profiled are actively using artificial intelligence to power their platforms, such as Salesforce’s Einstein and IBM’s Watson engines, while six more are piloting or testing AI. The two main use cases are chatbots and non-emergency reporting.
Furthermore, Asher says that tourism organizations can benefit by embracing how their cultural attractions engage both locals and visitors. Many museums, for example, are rolling out new digital platforms to better connect with their patrons. Tourism agencies can do more, he suggests, to promote those platforms and collaborate with their local institutions to help people plan their trips.
“Culture and history is a big draw for tourists, so anything that they can know in advance will ultimately encourage people to spend more time in cities, like Athens or Mexico City where we’ve worked,” Asher said. “I think their digital initiatives are great tools for the travel and tourism industry, and potentially valuable to attract convention traffic, too.”
Beyond that, he adds, the big picture goal is for cities to develop more sophisticated strategic plans that integrate the growing volume of various digital platforms in the public and private sectors, with their chief digital officers stewarding those plans.
London provides one of the best examples of that in action. London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the city’s first Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell, launched the new Smarter London Together report at London Tech Week in June this year, developed in partnership with Bloomberg Associates. It’s designed to “find a bolder approach to the way data innovation and digital technology serve those who live, work and visit our great city,” writes Mayor Khan in the report.
The Smarter London report complements the Mayor’s New London Plan, published last December, outlining London’s long-range strategy for sustainable and equitable growth, of which tourism development plays a critical part. It also highlights the role of cultural institutions to educate locals and visitors about technology. It reads:
“Cultural institutions have an important role to play in promoting public discussion and understanding about the role of data and technology in people’s lives. Digital technologies shape people’s experience and environment but are often ‘invisible’ to them as they go about their daily lives. The Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition, the V&A’s Digital Design Weekend, and the City Now City Future season at the Museum of London in 2017/18 are examples of how cultural institutions can play a vital role in promoting greater understanding among citizens of all ages…. [And] the Mayor-funded London Games Festival showcases the ubiquity of the city’s video games industry. Not just as gaming entertainment, but also for crossover technologies which aid learning through the latest VR and immersive tech in science, public art and education.”
“I think the big takeaway is that cities are trying new things,” said Asher. “They’re trying to innovate, but it can be very difficult to innovate with public dollars. That’s why it’s so important for cities to have the ability to see what other cities are doing that’s proven, transparent, and effective.”
The above content was produced by the SkiftX brand content team for our Skift Cities platform, defining how cities are connecting their visitor and innovation economies.